above: Photo by Liz Clayman
From organic, locally roasted coffee to indulgent Italian fare, new and notable food spots are opening up. Some are new. Others are new to us, extending beyond home base and setting up in Westport. For example, Ignazio’s (pronounced in-yat-s-zio—don’t mess it up) comes to us via New York City and Shearwater out of Fairfield. We dropped in for a taste. Here’s what we learned, and loved, about them.
1 / THE MEATBALL SHOP
The Meatball Shop is not an Italian restaurant that has meatballs. Rather, it does meatballs…and it does them well. The restaurant was started in New York by childhood best friends Dan Holzman and Michael Chernow, who wanted to open a place that had the “best” something. They decided to make meatballs their specialty, so that’s what they did.
The Westport location (the restaurant’s first in a suburban market) is on the water, surrounded by big, beautiful windows and enveloped by walls of exposed brick. The vibe is laid back cool.
“We’ve always wanted it to be a place where anyone from young kids and old grandparents can have a great time,” says CEO Adam Rosenbaum. “The menu has something for everyone.” A fan favorite this season is the Gobble Gobble plate: turkey meatballs with cranberry sauce, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Otherwise, try one of Adam’s favorites: spicy pork meatballs with spicy meat sauce over polenta. Wash it down with a specialty, like the Blackberry Cobbler, a bourbon whiskey cocktail with smashed blueberries and a graham cracker crumble on the rim.
See more at themeatballshop.com/locations.
2 / IGNAZIO’S
Eleven years ago Louis Termini’s godson asked him to try a slice of pizza at a legendary place in Brooklyn. A hundred people seemed to be in line. “It made me so sick,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m out of here. I’m going back to Connecticut.’ ” As he walked around a corner under the Brooklyn Bridge on his way home, he happened to see a vacant space with a sign in the window reading: “Space Available.” Immediately he made a promise: “Dear God, let me have this space. I’ll be good for two weeks.” He laughs while recounting the story.
Termini opened Luna Pizza in 1990 in the Hartford area. Over time, it expanded to seven locations in the county. He sold the business to family and returned to his native New York borough where he had found the vacant space under the bridge. He fired up the pizza ovens again.
Ignazio’s is known for its wood-fired, thin-crust pizza made special by using only the finest ingredients. Termini grew up with a grandmother and mother who made pizza at home. “Part of what makes what we do special is my father is Sicilian and my mom is French,” he says. “Because my mom is French, the cooking is just better overall.”
Over the years he often stopped in Westport for lunch. “Out of the corner of my eye, I’ve always had an affection for it,” he says. A realtor found a location for him in town and that’s how Ignazio’s landed here.
Don’t expect to see now-popular ingredients like pork belly, kale and Brussels sprouts on Ignazio’s pizza menu. “I don’t like to follow trends,” Termini says. “Although, I might contradict myself. There’ll be a few surprises.”
3 / SHEARWATER COFFEE BAR
The story of Shearwater Coffee Bar started with a passionate home roaster named Ed Freedman. He had been living in Fairfield County for more than thirty years and waiting for a specialty coffee shop to come to the area, but to no avail. So, he started a commercial coffee-roasting business himself, and eventually opened two coffee bars: the first in Fairfield and now in Westport.
“You know you’re in a specialty coffee shop when your drink is being expertly prepared by a trained barista with better equipment,” he says. “It’s a craft.” Now, Shearwater roasts about 80,000 pounds of coffee a year—all small-batch, organic and high quality.
Freedman is on a mission to upgrade the quality of coffee throughout the state. Shearwater Coffee Bar is way of furthering that mission as it offers an alternative to towns that don’t have specialty-coffee shops.
Quality is a major focus of the coffee bar. There are no syrupy sweeteners or sugar-laden creamers to be added to the beverages. Instead, the focus is on bringing out the coffee flavor of each cup using minimal but high-quality ingredients. “We want you to like the coffee, not cover it up,” Freedman says.
When it’s cold out, a customer favorite is the eggnog latte, which is frothed with high-quality milk to make it extra special. “There are already enough places that do the sugary stuff,” he says. Adding about his own coffee bars: “It’s about the quality of the underlying coffee, and that’s where specialty coffee shines.”
See more at shearwatercoffeeroasters.com.
4 / CHEF’S TABLE
Culinary Institute of America graduate Richard Herzfeld is no newbie to the local food scene. In fact, he has been running the popular Fairfield eatery Chef’s Table (chefstable.com) for two decades and has now decided to set up shop in Westport, taking over what used to be Christie’s Country Store.
“I’ve lived in Westport for twenty-five years, and I’ve always thought Christie’s was the coolest location in town,” he says. Then, one day, he got a call from a realtor: Hey, your dream place is up for rent. “It’s been amazing,” he says of moving into and opening the new eatery.
Chef’s Table is a casual, fun, café-style spot that serves everything from sandwiches, soups, salads and organic baked goods, all made in-house. There’s also a full breakfast menu with fresh-baked artisan sourdough and bagels on heavy rotation. There are even rainbow bagels, but Richard makes only eight of those each day, so you’ll have to get in early to snag one.
Both locations, Fairfield and Westport, have a welcoming vibe; some days, there’s even live music during lunch. While the Fairfield location is a fast-paced, the Westport space—with a big wraparound porch and a dog fountain outside—manages to preserve the country-store appeal of its past.
“Chef’s Table is an extension of my persona,” says Herzfeld. “Cooking and classic rock are my two favorite things, and Chef’s Table has brought those things to work in tandem. It’s special.”
See more at chefstable.com.
5 / MYSTIC MARKET
Charles Spathakis, the founder of Mystic Market (mysticmarket.com), believes that food enriches our lives and that quality food leads to a quality life. In February, Charles and his team brought that philosophy to Westport with the opening of Mystic Market, an artisanal sandwich, salad and coffee spot with the vibe of a neighborhood deli.
“We love being a part of the community,” says General Manager David Griswold. “Our fundamentals are good food, amazing customer service and trying to do as much in the community as possible.”
In addition to soups, salads and sandwiches, Mystic Market has a large selection of foods-to-go designed to make family dinner a breeze. While most ingredients they use are sourced in state, the team at Mystic Market ensures that even the items they don’t make in-house are from purveyors who care about their products.
Because of this, the menu is highly seasonal. In colder months, you’ll find the heartier stews on rotation, as well as the integration of lots of roots and squash on the menu.
Mystic Market Westport is the fourth store, following one location in Old Saybrook and two in Mystic. The markets are part of the Coastal Gourmet Group, which includes several restaurants and catering companies.
“Since we’re associated with catering companies, we have access to amazing chefs,” says Griswold. “We are a collective of different chefs and talent.” It shows in the food.
See more at mysticmarket.com/westport.